About C. J. Dennis

  • C.J. Dennis's full name was Clarence Michael James Dennis: he known mostly as Den or Clarrie. He was born 7 September, 1876 in Auburn, SA. He had 2 younger brothers.
  • C. J.’s parents were born in Ireland.  His father, James, came to Australia in the early 1860’s and became the licensee of the District Hotel in Gladstone, then later the Beetaloo Hotel in Laura. His mum, Kate, died in 1890 and two of her unwed sisters moved to Laura to look after the children.
  •  C. J. had a good deal of schooling, for the time, and left at 17 to start working. He attended Gladstone Primary, St Aloysius College and the Christian Brothers College.

  • His writing career began early: whilst in primary school he edited several issues of The Weary Weekly. At 19 he published his first poem, The Singular Experiences of Six Sturdy Sportsmen, in his local paper, The Laura Standard.
  • C. J. worked on the staff of Adelaide weekly The Critic becoming its editor. He started a weekly paper with AE Martin called The Gadfly in 1905. After approximately 18 months, he left the paper, moved from Adelaide to Melbourne and worked as a freelance journalist.
  •  C. J. met the artist Hal Waugh who took him to an artists’ retreat he’d created about 40km east of Melbourne in Toolangi in the Dandenong Ranges. C. J. would remain in this area for most of the rest of his life. There is a C. J. Dennis Festival there each year even now.
  • His first book was Backblock Ballads and Other Verses published in 1913. The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, published in 1915, became an instant success selling over 66,000 copies and 15 editions by 1917. By 1976 fifty-seven editions had been published in Australia, England, the United States and Canada, covering 285,000 copies. It may be the highest selling verse novel in Australia ever.
  • The Moods of Ginger Mick published in 1916 was a follow-up to The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. The Glugs of Gosh followed in 1917. Other publications include Doreen, Digger Smith and Rose of Spadgers. From 1922 until his death, Dennis produced at least 3,000 pieces of poetry and prose some of which can be found in The Singing Garden, his last book, filled with observations of his garden in Toolangi.
  • C. J. married Olive Harriet Herron in June 1917; he applied for and gained the lease of the land in Toolangi, where they lived. They had no children. Olive also wrote under the pseudonym Margaret Herron. In 1952, she compiled a collection of C. J.’s works that was released as Random Verses. She died in 1968.
  • The film of The Sentimental Bloke, produced and directed by Raymond Longford, released in 1919, broke all box office records of the time and had people queuing for blocks waiting to see it. You can see this film today at the National Film & Sound Archive in Canberra. They also sell the DVD. Their phone number is 02-6248-2006.
  • C. J. Dennis died of a heart condition related to his asthma on 22 June 1938 and is buried in Box Hill Cemetery in Victoria. After his death, J.A. Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia at the time, said: "I am sure that I speak for all Australians in expressing deep regret at the death of C. J. Dennis. He was the Robert Burns of Australia. He created characters which have become immortal and he captured the true Australian spirit. Already his work is world-famous, and future generations will treasure it." 
  • With Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, C. J. Dennis is one of the triumvirate of classic Australian poets.
  • Here's what Henry Lawson wrote in the Foreword to 'The Sentimental Bloke': 
    My young friend Dennis has honoured me with a request to write
    a preface to his book. I think a man can best write a preface to his own book, provided he knows it is good. Also if he knows it is bad.

    "The Sentimental Bloke", while running through the Bulletin, brightened up many dark days for me. He is more perfect than any alleged "larrikin" or Bottle-O character I have ever attempted to sketch, not even excepting my own beloved Benno. Take the first poem for instance, where the Sentimental Bloke gets the hump.  How many men, in how many different parts of the world--and of how many different languages--have had the
    same feeling--the longing for something better--to be something better?

    The exquisite humour of The Sentimental Bloke speaks for itself; but there's a danger that its brilliance may obscure the rest, especially for minds, of all stations, that, apart from sport and racing, are totally devoted to boiling "The cabbitch storks or somethink" in this social "pickle found-ery" of ours.

    Doreen stands for all good women, whether down in the smothering alleys or up in the frozen heights.  And so, having introduced the little woman (they all seem "little" women), I "dips me lid"-- and stand aside.

    Henry Lawson
    Sydney, 1st September 1915

  • Buy The Sentimental Bloke, The Poems of C.J Dennis
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